The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has promised to give the nation four new tourist resorts in its first 100 days. To help the Punjab government and its tourism department, I set out to explore three resorts across the province that are normally not on people’s radars.
Three locations Punjab should put on its tourism map.
Known more for Malik Amir Mohammad Khan, the Nawab of Kalabagh and fearsome governor of Punjab from 1960-1966, Kalabagh has so much more to offer.
River Indus, starting in Tibet, is contained in a mountain gorge; it is at Kalabagh that the river debouches into Punjab’s plains and what a magnificent sight it is to watch the sun go down over the 1928 railway bridge from the hamlet of Kukranwala on the river’s west bank.
You can take a boat ride upstream to Attock — previously Campbellpur — in a gorge only a few hundred metres wide at places, enjoy the views of old forts or centuries-old Hindu temples on both sides, make a stop at Makhad Sharif to visit the shrine on the banks of the Indus in the last town in Punjab or for a taste of the famous Makhadi halwa.
A one-way journey is two hours and the government can put Indus River Authority boats and infrastructure to good use.
Back in Kalabagh, visit and explore the historic 1918 Mari Indus railway station and its waiting rooms, along with a 1909 W&T Avery Ltd weighing bridge and a Neale’s token ball signal system.
The narrow-gauge train, which started from Kalabagh and went up to Bannu through Isakhel, stopped chugging in the 1990s. The stations at Kalabagh, Isakhel and Bannu are now derelict, but imagine reviving narrow-gauge, one of the only three besides Kohat-Thal and Zhob Valley railways.
Kalabagh boasts the second largest salt mines in Pakistan and used to be known for the dwindling art of making decoration pieces and lamps from salt rocks. The icing on the cake is visiting the Kalabagh Fort and the legendary Bohr Bangla at the banks of the River Indus. Both historic buildings belong to the Nawab of Kalabagh and his family and the relics, including guns, swords, medals and pictures remind us of a grand past.
The Nawab’s family still nurture some of the finest breeds at their stud farms, and their vast hunting ranges follow modern conservation practices.
The Kalabagh Fort and the Bohr Bangla have an immense potential to be converted into heritage hotels — imagine party boats or tourist yachts sailing on the Indus with Kalabagh in the backdrop.
Next on my list of resorts is Sakesar, the summer headquarters of the colonial districts of Mianwali, Jehlum and Attock.
Now, few people would know that Sakesar also gets snowfall in the winter and the valley boasts wildlife such as deer, foxes, partridges and leopards.
At the top of Sakesar is now a radar base of Pakistan Air Force and the government can request the air force authorities to make an allowance for civilians to enjoy the lovely mountains.
The top has some historic Hindu temples, including the Amb temples on the western side.
There is another government rest house a few kilometres from the top at Phulwari with astounding views of surrounding mountains and the reddish-blue Uchaali Lake.
Speaking of lakes, Soon Valley boasts many protected migratory birds’ wetlands including Uchaali, Kabehki, Jaahler and Namal Lakes.
While we have stopped welcoming tourists from the world over, no one can stop these guests from Siberia unless we destroy these natural habitats.
If the Air Force allows, one can visit these lakes, the 1860 police station in Nowshera, the game reserve and the historic forest rest house at Sodi Jai Wali, Dhun canyons, Dev Sharif’s emerald green ponds, the 1933 colonial Kanhatti Gardens near Kabehki Lake, the Nurshingh Phowar temples and enjoy the exquisite rolling mountains across Soon Valley.
The third suggestion is Fort Munro in the Sulaiman Mountains in Dera Ghazi Khan.
At around 6,500 feet, Fort Munro also has the distinction of being the only hill station in south Punjab to have snowfall every few years.
Fort Munro was developed by the British sometime in the late 19th century. Standing at the mountain ridge, it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding Sulaiman range.
In times gone by, the political assistant’s presence at Fort Munro would be announced by a fluttering Union Jack — and later the Pakistan flag — which would inform people in far-flung areas that sahib is at the fort, and they would arrive to get their issues resolved.
The historical flag post also signifies the place where all tribal chiefs stood in 1950 to announce allegiance to Pakistan.
A colonial billiard table is still functional in one of the buildings and the political assistant’s residence, Sandeman Lodge, reminds us of times when sahib would ride a horse or be carried in a palki from DG Khan all the way to Fort Munro.